Citing a need to reinvigorate the country’s aging armed forces, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Saturday the reinstatement of mandatory military service during times of war and stepped-up efforts to recruit volunteers during peacetime.
The Ministry of Defense has submitted to the National Assembly a draft law requiring 18 months of service from men between the ages of 18 and 25 in times of military conflict, the prime minister said at a ceremony promoting Funcinpec Defense co-Minister Nhiek Bun Chhay to the rank of four-star general.
“From 1993 to 2004, there was no military obligation law, so right now we don’t have any young soldiers,” Hun Sen said. “If we don’t have the law, we don’t have young soldiers to fight to protect the territory.”
While military demobilization and weapons destruction programs will continue, the Defense Ministry has an obligation in the third government mandate to ensure a balance between senior veterans and young soldiers, Hun Sen said.
“The Ministry of Defense has a duty to reform in order to protect the territory, on land and in the air,” he said.
In addition to the reinstatement of a wartime draft, the Defense Ministry will renew efforts to recruit young soldiers during peacetime, officials said Sunday.
With a standing military force of about 112,000 troops, many of whom are aging veterans who fought during the 1970s, the government aims to recruit up to 1,000 new soldiers per year, RCAF Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan said. Currently, the military attracts between 90 and 100 new recruits annually.
New recruits who pass physical examinations and basic training will be selected for the military reserves, Defense co-Minister Tea Banh said.
Finding a way to pay for this expanded military will be up to the National Assembly, said Meas Sophea, deputy to Ke Kim Yan.
In the last government mandate, the average monthly salary of an RCAF soldier was less than $20, outgoing Defense co-Minister Prince Sisowath Sirirath said Sunday. Military staff complained of salary cuts as recently as September.
If the law is applied fairly across economic lines, universal military service could benefit the country’s youth, observers said Sunday.
“I think the training of young soldiers will provide them with strength and intelligence to live in society,” said Chea Vannath, director of the Center for Social Development. The most likely volunteers will be young men from poor families seeking to earn a salary, she said.
“The military obligation will reduce student unemployment,” said Team Samnang, 23, a political science student at the Royal Academy of Cambodia. “If there is a law, I will comply.”